World Diabetes Day: how insulin pens can improve the lives of people living with diabetes


Diabetes is a chronic disease that demands lifelong management. It impacts all age groups — children, and young and older adults — and if not managed properly, there can be devastating consequences. Lack of access to insulin for people with type 1 diabetes is fatal.

MSF currently treats people living with diabetes in Lebanon, Sudan, Kenya and South Africa. In Lebanon, we offer insulin pens for all patients to inject their insulin. The pens offer a wide range of benefits over more traditional insulin delivery options like glass vials and syringes for patients, their families and caregivers.

On World Diabetes Day, we share three stories of people living with diabetes, whom our medical team in Lebanon are supporting. We hope that by hearing the voices of patients, we can make the case more forcefully for people with diabetes everywhere to have access to insulin pens wherever they live and at a price their health systems can afford.

Ali, 16. ©Carmen Yahchouchi

Ali and his family live in Arsal, a town in the northeastern corner of Lebanon, near the border with Syria. Ali found out he had type 1 diabetes when he was seven years old. He and his family grappled with the challenges of injecting insulin using glass vials and syringes. Today, with support from MSF, Ali has switched to using insulin pens.

“My name is Ali Al-Houjairi. I am 16 years old. I was seven years old when I learned that I had diabetes with all the symptoms I was getting.

Taking injections was very challenging for me with the syringe and glass vials of insulin. I didn’t leave the house or spend time with my friends or do anything sociable. I developed mental problems due to diabetes.

When I started using insulin pens, I started going outside again and seeing friends once more. I keep the pens with me now whenever I go out. My life’s normal again.

At first, when I wasn’t used to [diabetes], it was certainly frightening. But now it’s normal and I live normally.

How can I explain it? I do not consider it a disease, but a normal condition in anybody’s life. We all have insulin levels that decrease sometimes. Insulin is normal.”

Siwar, 6. ©Carmen Yahchouchi

Siwar, a six-year-old little girl, is also being treated for type 1 diabetes by the MSF medical team in Arsal. Her family came to Lebanon in 2014, like so many others, fleeing the armed conflict in Syria.

“Siwar…was just learning to walk, taking her first steps, and then she suddenly stopped. We took her to see a paediatrician. Eventually she was admitted to Al-Rahma Hospital here in Arsal, where she was diagnosed with diabetes.

They gave her insulin, and her sugar levels decreased a bit. It was all very confusing for us. She was so little. How could she possibly develop diabetes so young?

Today we give her [insulin] four or five times a day with the insulin pens. Our daughter is very chatty and talkative. We can’t get her to stop talking. She loves school and playing outside.

She has started asking for the insulin pen all by herself. She also asks for the smaller needles. The difference is huge between the old needles, used with the glass vials and syringes, and what’s in the insulin pens.

Even adults struggle when using the syringe* as they insert the needle into their bodies. The needle in the insulin pen is barely visible. When I give it to her, I try to do it so that she just feels my hand and not the needle.

The pens are a great help. They made things easier for the kids, especially since we have to do this several times every day.”

  • This refers to the glass vial and insulin syringe that many paediatric patients use to control their diabetes before switching to insulin pens.
Zeinab, 16. ©Carmen Yahchouchi

Zeinab came to Lebanon in 2013 with her mother to escape the armed conflict in Syria. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was eight years old and is now receiving treatment from MSF’s clinic in Arsal.

“My name is Zeinab Waleed Othman. I’m 16 years old. I inject the insulin dose at five o’clock each morning, before going out to work in the fields. I also do the tests to monitor my blood sugar to see if it’s at a good level. Then I head out to work. We all work there together in the fields, have fun and get some exercise.

The syringe I used before I had a pen to inject insulin, scared me, especially the needle, because of the pain. It was frightening. This is not the case anymore. Using the insulin pen is much easier, and especially when comparing the needles!

Everything has changed now and improved. I was often confused before, but now I’m much more comfortable with everything that has to be done. I know how to inject with the pen, and how to measure the insulin accurately.

The difference is massive. My body feels different. I manage to work when I take the insulin shot. When I don’t, I can’t get anything done.

When I take it, my body rests and everything feels right.

Diabetes isn’t scary. I would like other little girls, just like myself, to know that it’s ok to have diabetes. It is normal. I thought it was the dead end of my life, but I have a found a way to lead a normal life.”

Find our more about our work to support people with diabetes on our website and sign up to our newsletter to hear more stories about access to medicines.



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